Thursday, December 01, 2016

Abolish capital punishment -- moving outdoor evening service at Mission Nombre de Dios

Very moving service, with crime victims' families and friends opposing capital punishment.

Cities for Life event gives voice to those opposed to the death penalty

CHRISTINA.KELSO@STAUGUSTINE.COM People light 386 candles representing the lives of Florida’s 386 death-row inmates as they protest the use of the death penalty in a Cities for Life vigil held by the Diocese of St. Augustine at the Mission Nombre de Dios on Wednesday, November 30, 2016. 
More than 60 people shrugged off the threat of rain showers Wednesday night when they gathered outside at the Shrine at the Mission Nombre de Dios to say they wanted to see an end to the death penalty.
Those who came heard from a number of speakers, including Deacon Jason Roy who ministers daily to some of the 386 men and women currently sitting on Florida’s Death Row.
Others included Darlene Farah, who has been fighting with the 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, urging prosecutors there not to seek the death penalty in the case against the man accused of her daughter’s 2013 murder.
Herman Lindsey, who was sentenced to death in 2006 and exonerated in 2009, told his story, as did Deborah Jackson, whose husband, Kim Jackson, is currently sitting on Death Row.
Through the differing perspectives offered, a number of messages emerged including the assertion that the death penalty hurts far more people than it helps.
“The death penalty creates more victims,” Farah told those gathered in front of the podium.
She told a tale of the hurt and pain that her family has gone through after her daughter’s death and the realization that, if the death penalty is secured in the case against the man accused of her murder, they will be forced to relive it for decades to come as the case goes through the appeals process.
It was that appeals process that saved Lindsey, who called himself the Florida’s “23rd Death Row survivor.”
His case, he said, was the first in the state’s history to be thrown out with a unanimous decision from the Florida Supreme Court, who ruled that the evidence presented at his trial did not support a conviction.
After his conviction, Lindsey told those gathered that he “lost all faith,” but eventually came to the conclusion that, after his exoneration, he had to fight to end the death penalty.
“God takes us through things so he can use us in a certain way,” he said.
The one-hour event, co-hosted by the the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine and Equal Justice USA, was called Cities for Life. It also featured music from the St. Augustine Chamber Singers, who sang during a candle lighting ceremony where those in attendance lit 386 candles representing each Death Row inmate.
Cities for Life is an effort that was started 15 years ago by the Rome-based Sant’Egidio Community as a movement to end the death penalty. Since it began, more than 2,000 cities throughout the world have declared themselves against executions, according to diocese spokeswoman Kathleen Bagg.
While local cities haven’t signed on, Bagg said parishioners started organizing the event locally last year. That first event was smaller than Wednesday evening’s, but, Bagg said, the anti-death penalty cause has grown in significance here since the Rev. Rene Robert, a local priest known for his opposition to the death penalty, was found shot to death in Georgia earlier this year.
Robert’s body was found in April in a remote area of Burke County, Georgia, days after he was reported missing by friends and family. Authorities say he was killed there by 28-year-old Steven James Murray, a man with an extensive criminal record, who, it is believed, met Robert through the priest’s active ministry devoted to serving the less fortunate, including those who had spent time in prison and jail.
Shortly after Murray was arrested and charged, Georgia district attorney Ashley Wright filed her intent to seek the death penalty in the case against him.
That troubled some who knew of Robert’s beliefs.
The issue was further compounded, at least for some, when a signed and notarized document was found in Robert’s file at the diocese that left virtually no doubt as to his wishes should he be killed. The Declaration of Life, as it is titled, said that if he were ever to fall victim to a violent crime, he would not want the death penalty sought against the person convicted of the crime.
That discovery prompted letters from the Most Rev. Felipe J. Estevez, bishop of St. Augustine, to the editor of The Record and to Wright herself, calling for an end to the “cycle of violence” perpetuated by the use of the death penalty.
Wright told The Record in a subsequent interview that such letters or even the decalration itself held no sway over her.
“My oath actually prohibits me from making decisions based on what the community demands or rejects,” she said.
The Rev. John Gillespie, pastor at San Sebastian Church, read a portion of his friend’s declaration Wednesday night.
As the ceremony drew to a close and the wind began extinguishing the candles behind him, Gillespie asked those who came to consider adding their signature to a petition asking Wright to revisit her decision to seek the death penalty in the case against Murray.
“I don’t think he wants it,” Gillespie said of Robert. “I do not want it. And I hope you agree.”
Posted December 1, 2016 06:46 am  

No comments: